Houston ISD appealing Wheatley’s failing grade

By ALEX WUKMAN

Houston ISD is appealing Wheatley High School’s failing grade. Texas’ largest school district announced the appeal on Sept. 13. 

The district’s decision to appeal Wheatley’s failing grade — the seventh ‘F’ the school has received in seven years — will push a proposed state takeover of HISD back several months. 

In an early September letter to HISD’s board,  Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told board members that if Wheatley’s failing grade stands the district must either close the storied high school or lose its elected board. 

At a recent school board meeting, district staff acknowledged that the appeal is basically perfunctory at this point.

“We’ve tried really, really hard to find anything we could hang our hat on for an appeal for Wheatley,” Assistant Superintendent Carla Stevens told the board. “We cannot find anything that would be an allowable appeal that would get granted.” 

Despite Wheatley’s historic role in Houston’s black community, Barbara Jordan studied at the school, the city’s business leaders haven’t exactly lined up behind HISD. 

In an August editorial in the Houston Chronicle, Greater Houston Partnership President Bob Harvey called for the Texas Education Agency to oust the HISD board. 

Harvey argued that the district’s problems are too entrenched to be corrected by current leadership. He cited the board’s culture of political careerism and petty corruption and the persistent failure of many of the district’s schools to meet even the barest of minimum requirements. 

And while Harvey’s criticisms may be valid — still, uncool bro. You’ve got to back your hometown. 

New San Antonio food pantry puts dignity first

Photo courtesy Texas Hunger Initiative Austin

In the midst of an ongoing conversation about tent cities, homelessness, and whether or not people have a right to sleep on a public street — a new type of food pantry in San Antonio is trying to make sure that Texans are taken care of. 

St. Stephen’s CARE Center opened in the West Side of San Antonio on Sept. 9, and unlike typical food pantries — the CARE Center looks and operates like a traditional grocery store. 

The center’s clients can peruse the aisles and choose the type of products they will receive, which hopefully will create a feeling of autonomy and dignity, Catholic Charities of San Antonio‘s Christina Higgs told Texas Public Radio.

The CARE Center is one of Catholic Charities of San Antonio’s outreach programs. The center is also set up as a sort of clearinghouse for various services.

Catholic Charities also has clients check-in when entering the facility so caseworkers can asses the clients’ needs and offer services like GED, language, and life skills classes. 

Along with food, clients can receive clothing assistance for infants and young children — thanks to donations from the Texas Diaper Bank

St. Stephen Catholic Church also hopes that the center will serve as a hub for San Antonio’s homeless population during emergencies and natural disasters.    

Because of San Antonio’s famously brutal summers, the region averages about 10-12 days with 100-degree temperatures per year, it doesn’t even require a declared natural disaster for the city’s homeless population to be at risk. 

Although San Antonio’s largest homeless encampment is about one mile east of the Alamo, at North Hackberry Street and Nolan Street, St. Stephen Catholic Church decided to open its CARE Center about four miles southwest of the iconic landmark. 

Catholic Charities chose the west side of San Antonio, specifically the 78207 ZIP code,  because the area has a significant low-income population. Out of the 56,348 people who live within a 2-mile radius of St. Stephen Catholic Church, 92 percent are Hispanic and 60 percent make less than $25,000 per year.  

Up to 25 percent of the children served by the CARE Center qualify as “food insecure,” according to a statement Catholic Charities of San Antonio CEO J. Antonio Fernandez gave to Texas Public Radio. 

Client-centric food pantries have also started sprouting up in other Texas cities. One of the first food-pantries to focus on restoring client dignity to the assistance process was St. Phillip’s Food Pantry in Dallas. When St. Phillip’s redesigned its service model in 2015 it became an early-adopter client choice. 

The idea of allowing people to choose the assistance items they needed proved so successful that within a few years the North Texas social services agency MetroCrest debuted its own self-choice food pantry in the Dallas suburb of  Farmers Branch

The self-choice food pantry model has also spread to Houston with MANNA’s Food Pantry, which “follows a client-choice independent model,” according to the organization’s website. 

Thorough the self-choice model, Mannas is able to provide clients with both perishable and non-perishable food items. Texas nonprofits’ ongoing reevaluation of their food assistance models is putting respect, kindness and human decency back into the recipe. 

Tropical Storm Imelda’s flooding turns deadly

Felipe Morales works on getting his truck out of a ditch filled with high water during a rain storm stemming from rain bands spawned by Tropical Storm Imelda on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Houston. He was able to get help when a man with a truck helped pull him from the ditch. Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via Associated Press

BY STACY FERNÁNDEZ

Flooding from Tropical Storm Imelda on Thursday left hundreds of people trapped in their homes and cars; led to water rescues, a hospital evacuation and power outages; and closed entire school districts, according to officials and local media. At least two people died in the storm’s floodwaters, including a 19-year-old man trying to move his horse, according to media reports.

On Thursday evening, the Harris County sheriff’s office tweeted that another man died after being submerged in his vehicle.

The flooding in southeast Texas drew comparisons to Hurricane Harvey, which dumped more than 50 inches of water on parts of the Houston area and southeast Texas two years ago. According to the Weather Channel, Imelda became the continental United States’ fifth-wettest tropical cyclone. It dropped more than 41 inches in some areas, compared with Harvey’s highest rainfall total of 60.8 inches. Still, parts of the state have been inundated worse than they were two years ago.

“What I’m sitting in right now makes Harvey look like a little thunderstorm,” Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne told ABC13.

Residents of rural Jefferson County, especially its western half, were inundated with rainfalls that in some areas far exceeded what was forecast, a National Weather Service meteorologist told the Beaumont Enterprise. The paper also reported that about 200 people fled to a city shelter in downtown Beaumont and that Interstate 10 was closed because of flooding.

Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency Thursday morning due to flooding in more than a dozen Houston-area counties.

The declaration gave affected counties access to state resources as they continue to respond to the flooding. The governor deployed resources, including water rescue squads, to the area Monday in preparation for the storm, according to the release.

“The State of Texas is working closely with local officials and emergency personnel to provide the resources they need to keep Texans safe from Tropical Storm Imelda,” Abbott said in a statement. “I thank our first responders who are acting swiftly to help the communities that are facing this severe weather event. I urge all those in the path of this storm to take the necessary precautions and heed all warnings from local officials.”

The counties included in the disaster declaration are Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, Hardin, Harris, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Matagorda, Montgomery, Newton, Orange and San Jacinto.

A mandatory evacuation order was issued at 9:30 a.m. Thursday for Pinewood Estates, Countrywood Estates and Rose Hill Acres, areas north of Beaumont, according to weather.com.

Local residents posted photos on Twitter that showed water reaching close to their knees and covering the tires of standing cars.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner advised in a tweet Thursday morning that if people were in a safe place, like work or school, they should stay in place for the next three to four hours until the area is more clear of water.

Freeways in the Houston area flooded, Houston police Chief Art Acevedo said in a tweet. George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston also announced it was at a “full ground stop.”

Colby Croom, a volunteer, ventured into the storm with a boat to help rescue people in the Beaumont area, he told The New York Times. Croom’s cellphone was overwhelmed with calls Thursday morning. There were times when more than 10 people reached out to him in the span of a minute.

Croom helped several families escape their homes since the morning, he told the Times.

“I’ve seen water over rooftops,” he said. “I’ve seen vehicles stalled out. Man, it’s kind of like the Harvey deal all over again.”

The Houston Chronicle reported that the storm’s “sudden swing-back” caught them by surprise and left many people stranded at work or on flooded streets and highways. Parents in the region were angry that at least 20 school districts remained open Thursday, the paper reported.

Many parts of Houston and southeast Texas still have not fully recovered from Harvey. And areas that didn’t flood in that catastrophic storm were hit hard by Imelda.

In 2017, Harvey swept across the Gulf of Mexico, becoming a Category 4 hurricane before it slammed into the tiny coastal town of Rockport. From there, the storm slowly moved across the state and dumped historic amounts of rain across a wide swath of southeast Texas.

Harvey’s flooding damaged or destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes. Damage estimates surpassed the $100 billion mark, and more than half a million families sought disaster relief aid. State and federal officials used the damage, which became the biggest housing recovery in modern history, as a chance to rewrite the nation’s disaster playbook. But many said those attempts slowed aid and made Texans guinea pigs.

Harvey hit Texas less than a year after a joint investigation by The Texas Tribune and ProPublica reported that unchecked development in and around Houston created short-term economic gains while increasing flood risks for homeowners and businesses. Meanwhile, climate change is only expected to bring more frequent and fierce rainstorms to the region.

Harris County voters approved a historic $2.5 billion bond package last year to finance an array of flood control projects in the Houston area. And in their first legislative session after Harvey, Texas lawmakers agreed earlier this year to draw $1.7 billion from the state’s savings account to fund repairs and flood control projects.

Although a previous version of Senate Bill 7 would have appropriated more than $3 billion from the state’s savings account, that figure changed as lawmakers negotiated budget proposals. The legislation was part of a trio of disaster relief bills that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick identified as a priority this legislative session. It establishes two funds that would provide grants and loans for flood control and mitigation projects. Imelda comes weeks before Texas voters will decide in a constitutional election whether to create one of those funds, the Flood Infrastructure Fund.

This article originally appeared on the Texas Tribune. To read it in the original form click here.